Category Archives: sailing family

6 weeks in Tonga: part one- Vava’u September 2018

img_1785img_1789Upon our arrival into Tonga, we felt a mixture if great relief and anticipation. We were relieved to be somewhere that we knew we would be at for about 6 weeks and were  anticipating the next step… were we going to get Josie to work in US as a travel nurse again for a 3 month assignment or wait for work in New Zealand.  We had to get both lined up a some point.  Josie’s work in New Zealand  should probably start sometime late December or early January.  Lots to think about and lots of fun to be had at the same time. Finding the balance of continuing the enjoyment of cruising and being responsible to keep the kitty fund coming can be a challenge.

Lets first have fun and worry about the other stuff as it comes up.

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Check into the country: check. Get Pa’anga (Tongan Money) from the ATM: check. Fresh produce from the local produce market: check. Walk around to town to get the general feel for things, check. Find our cruising friends, some of which we hadn’t seen since Tahiti, check check.  Neiafu is a small, but popular port of entry for Tonga in the northern group of islands called the Vava’u Island Group. It lies in the upper group of Tonga.fbd5ce09-0e7f-4b3c-90bd-c455a94a98d3

Checking in was pretty easy, the docking, not so much. The industrial dock is not super small sailing yacht friendly. It’s weather dependent,  has limited space, and tidal dependant.  We happen to have it to ourselves, but it isn’t uncommon for there to be 2-3 boats side tied to each other waiting for many hours for the check-in or check-out process.  This is also the only supposed place to get duty free fuel, which by the sounds of the radio chatter wasn’t quite that easy of a process and was not to be relied on.  Anchoring is also very limited. Most of the waters were at least 70 feet-120 deep up right near to shore and known for some rocky bottoms.  Basically, you crossed your fingers that there was a mooring available. We lucked out, someone had just left one.img_1597Mango Bar and Grill was where most of the cruisers would take their dinghies into shore and tie up.

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Taj driving the dinghy back out to the boat.

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A little boys club time at the Mango bar and grill

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We spent a few days on the mooring just off of Neiafu, exploring the town, visiting friends, meeting new friends, accessing wi-fi, finding the local butcher shop, and pondering what anchorages we should visit over the next 6 weeks.  Tonga has this weird, and thought to be rude by some, anchorage naming phenomenon.  Instead of the proper Tongan names for the anchorages, they have assigned numbers associated to them. This all started with the Moorings charter company. It was easier to provide anchorage numbers to the charter boats than for the people to read and pronounce the names of each anchorage.  I have to admit, as much as we tried to avoid using the #’s and be respectful to the Tongan people, it was a lot easier to use the #’s to let people know where we were at or heading to.  It just became what people did with the exception of a few more popular places.  Hopefully, at some point, the # names will be lost and the traditional Tongan names will be used again.

There were over 40 different anchorages in the Vava’u Island group of Tonga. You can see Moorings Tongan Cruising Guide in the link above or here.

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Noonsite also has some useful information on the latest Tonga info.  It’s all about the “latest” as it is ALWAYS changing season to season. Most of the anchorages are fair weather anchorages only, but there a few good ones that a really protected from specific wind directions. We happened to be in Tonga during one of the most windy 6 week stretches of the year, so we were a bit limited on where we went. But we made the best of it and we were with great people, so all was good.

I’m not sure what happened to my anchorage/ farkwar tracking abilities during our time in Tonga. I’m pretty sure I was just trying to enjoy every bit of it that I could in that moment before I had to leave for work and then move to New Zealand for more work. I’ll try my best to re-hash some memories of our time in the Vava’u group (part 1 of our 6 weeks in Tonga).

August 30th: Maurelle bay (anchorage 7), Tonga. After 5 days of “big city” Neiafu life, we ventured out to our first anchorage in Tonga. Maurelle Bay. This lovely spot would end up being where we frequented the most,  with the exception of trips to Neiafu town to re-stock.  Maurelle was just a quick few hours out of town and a beautiful little bay that can fit a good number of your friend’s boats. There was 4 mooring balls that were available and then probably room for about 7 more boats to anchor.  A local would come by to collect a “donation”, I forget how much it was, but it wasn’t too much and  you could stay 5 days with it, but if you left and came back you would have to pay again. A bit funny, but we got over it.  The bay offered swimming, snorkelling, beach walking and easy(ish) access to the caves that are well known in Tonga. Mariners Cave and Swallows Cave.  Swallows Cave offered bats and clear water with many bait fish swimming around in formation. Super cool and easy for the kids. We did see a sea snake in there though…eeek.  Mariners is one of the more popular caves for having to dive down through and up into the open, dark cave. There is a swim through that’s anywhere from 6 feet to 12 feet deep depending on the tide and another one much deeper at  13-15 meters (44-50 feet).  S/V Muskoka took a bunch of us out to Mariner’s Cave and has a bit of footage of me diving down and through the deep tunnel. Here’s the link to their youtube video. The dive can be found at ~5min 10sec of the 14 min video.  (There is also a clip of Taj during one of his many frequent visits to S/v Muskoka : at 7min).

S/V Soggypaws has some good info on the dive sites and many other useful information for Tonga.

September 3rd: Kenutu (anchorage 30), Tonga.  This anchorage was out on the outskirts a bit, but worth the trip. One must follow the chart closely through a bit of a zigzag channel and go with good lighting to avoid running aground or on a reef.  This sweet spot held a good number of boats and offered more beach activities as well as dinghy sailing and kite surfing.  Kenutu was where we made cookies for the anchorage and had all the kids come paddle by the boat to pick them up.  Watch the short video below.

We shared many anchorages with many lovely cruisers. We had a dinghy raft up pot-luck, beach bon-fires, many sun-downers rotating between the different boats, pizza parties, birthday parties, and the occasional quiet evenings alone on our own boat.

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Calazone making aboard SV Anilaimg_1724

The video above was taken on one of my swims in Tapana Bay (anchorage #11). Zen life underwater.img_1788

The video below is when we had a impromtu boatfitness session aboard SV Muskoka.  I gave a little TRX demo / instruction and Laurie Ritchie added her professional Physio tips.

While we were there, we did get to experience a few cultural events. Sunday church is a HUGE thing in Tonga. In fact, most everything is closed on Sundays and the only thing to do is go to church. We are not church goers ourselves, but Nina and I went with a few other cruising families to get that experience. “Wow!”, is about all I can say. The attire that some of the locals wear and the songs they sing are amazing!. We went to the Catholic mass, but a few other cruisers went to the other sermans as well.   The experience is worth every bit of the effort.

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St. Joseph’s Cathedral

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As for the “traditional Tongan feast”, we hopped onto a luncheon at Ene’io Botanical Garden that a few other cruisers signed up for. It’s organised through one of the ex-pat tourist coffee shops in town.  A van picked us up and drove us out and over to the feast location. Apparently its this family farm that goes back many generations. Tours can be arranged for the full farm, but we just did the meal. I believe the meal alone was $40/person. I could be mistaken though, as it was a while ago. Again, just Nina and I went for this event. The roasted pig was as anticipated. I would say the rest of the food was so so. I think the best part was more about the whole experience, the attmoshphere and the people we were with more than food itself.  End result, we probably wouldn’t do this particular one again, but if we met a family and they invited us over for a traditional dinner, we would indeed be extatic to participate.08166056-ae0b-4cc6-8e32-e526641d9564

As time was ticking, it was time to start thinking about work.  There was play time and then there was a little thinking about “should I get a travel nurse assignment in The States or try to start work ASAP in New Zealand?”  First step was to look further into New Zealand Immigration  for what I’ll need to do to get a work visa and move to the next step from there.  As we looked into it further it became clear that the best way to go would be to apply for a job and get the job offer first and then apply for the visa.  If all went well with that, the visa would probably take a few months to go through. With that in mind, we decided it would be best for me to pick up a travel assignment back in San Francisco as long as the hospital  in New Zealand was willing to wait for a start date in January 2019.

Sure enough, everything happened to fall right into place. I was able to apply for NICU position at the level 3 NICU in Wellington, New Zealand, get in contact with them to set up an interview all the while setting up a travel assignment in the United States.  I was able to do all of this thanks to the affordable sim cards in Tonga and an APP called MagicJack to call internationally along with a few iridiumGo calls when there was no service available.  As I was organizing my travel assignment, Wellington Hospital offered to do a phone/skype interview. I loaded up my SIM card, had fellow cruisers watch the kids, and Christian motored our boat to an anchorage that we knew would be quiet and had cell coverage in order for me to have the clear call. I dressed up for the part, Christian went for a standup paddleboard tour around the island while I rang in for the interview. Wow, what a cool experience. I doubt many people could say that they had a phone interview off a remote island in Tonga. The interview went well. They were willing to wait until January if they offered the job, I just needed to wait a few days for their response. I rang up the travel nurse recruiter to confirm “a go” for 13 week assignment starting mid October to early January. Then a few days later I was offerend the New Zealand job!!! INCREDIBLE!

With all that excitement, we celebrated of course. But we also had to change gears for getting me to Tongatapu to fly out by October 9th.  We had more places to go, more time to play, but on more of a time schedule. We also had to arrange for our friend, Nic, from S/V Cielo Grande, to fly out to Tonga to help sail Shawnigan down to New Zealand.

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Maurelle Bay

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Play dates with other boat kids! (Representing Counting Stars, Magic and La Cigale)

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Playtime aboard Shawnigan

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Taj trying to explain how to play “chest” (as he calls it).

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Tall Ship Picton Castle

Taj had to have this cottonball in his ear due to a really bad ear infection. It started as just an ear ache and a fever that turned into many days later still having it with a sudden continuous drainage of gunk. We ended up giving him antibiotic and thankfully within a week it was mostly clear up. Our friends on Anila had an Otoscope that they loaned us and from what we could tell, the eardrum was ruptured, and pretty severely. For the remaining time in Tonga, the poor kid had to be really careful about not going underwater or making sure that he had waxy ear plugs in if he did.  I cant help but wonder if the germs from Christian’s staph infections were hanging out on the boat and got into Taj’s ear. I think that’s the nurse in me, but we’ll never know and it all turned out ok.

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A little boat making project with dad.

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Giving the boat a go…

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Facebook video call with Ellamae, who was in Florida. Thay aren’t real tears, but sometimes I sure felt that they could be.

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Fish and Chips out on the water- I just realised that it actually says “fish and chip”… you do get more than one chip with your order.

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Drama on the way to Tonga…

Is posting a blog like sending a thank you card>>> you have a year to do it and it’s still acceptable? We’ll just say it is and better late than never!

After we left French Polynesia we did a quick stop at one of the northern Cook Islands called Suwarrow. Read about it here.  The quick stop was due to weather planning.  We could either go then and now or possibly end up waiting 3 weeks on a very deserted island before our next weather window.  As inviting as that was, A: we didn’t have enough fresh produce for that and B: we wanted to get to Tonga just in case Christian’s staph infected foot wound took a turn for the worst. I would post a picture, but afraid the content would be too graphic for most.

The passage from Suwarrow to Tonga was quite lovely, but not without a hitch. Christian was not able to put any weight on his wounded foot, so we left with all the sail and galley work up to me.  The passage from Suwarrow to Tonga would take about 5 days, roughly 600 miles, the time was right, the date was August 23rd, 2018. Mid-day we weighed anchor and motored down the channel. Upon leaving the pass out of Suwarrow the main sail was already hoisted and the 120 head-sail was out. The wind was perfect, the motor was no longer needed. As we exited the pass the wind was solid. Yes! It was going to be a great sail out, but first I needing to furl in the jib a bit with the wind direction and speed picking up.  We were all very excited to be heading to Tonga. Along with the excitement came a bit of overzealous manoeuvring…. I went to the furling line to pull in a bit of sail. I questioned whether or not I should let out the sheets  (letting the lines on the jib slack)  in order for me to make it easier on myself, but felt my need to use muscles take over… as I pulled on the furling line with what I thought was good form, that’s when it happened, I felt the “pop” in my back.

Although I didn’t feel pain immediately, I could tell I was done for. I finished what I needed to very carefully and pretty much was immobile for the next 3 days as the pain set in minutes after the initial event and held on without relief.  Thankfully the sails didn’t need much in the way of changing. There was one or two times that I had to go up and raise and lower the whisker pole (the pole that holds the jib out for shape with a down-wind direction).  I’ve now experienced those moments where the pain seems to subside when there is something that must be done, and then the pain returns as soon as your done. What a strange phenomenon.  As I was laid up in the cockpit for 3 days, I tried to move as little as possible with the one time below per day to cook dinner. Nina helped with breakfast and lunches, thankfully. And she continued her 8pm-11pm watches. The only difference was that on her watch, I was the one out helping instead of Christian, who normally helps her during her watches. Again, not much needed to be done on this passage, so that was good.  During those days, I realised how much core muscle you actually use when you’re sailing. Every jerk and jolt of the boat, my core would activate and my back would spasm. It took everything possible to relax through the normal movements of the boat.

On the bright side… we did catch two Yellowfin Tuna! Christian has his moment of putting the pain aside, keeping his foot elevated while hand reeling in the fish… I wasn’t about to.

There was lots of reading going on.

Chatting with Ellamae on the Satellite phone. And S/V La Cigale on the radio.

Making a flag for Tonga.

Playing with toys.

 

By the time the weather got a little bit rougher, around middle day 4, I was able to move more and do all the things needed. We had a great 3.5 days downwind and another 2 that were upwind, but not too bad. On day 6 (5 and 3/4) , August 24th, 2018, arriving into Tonga’s, Neiafu came with so much relief. Christian was still pretty immobile… but he could help us dock to the, worst yet, port captains/immigration dock, hobble to the port captain’s office and back, and help us get onto the mooring ball later on. I was moving like an old lady, but much better.  During the check in process, I grabbed some Tongan money (called Pa’anga) from an ATM and loaded us up with fresh produce from the farmers market. A good way to start our time in Tonga.

Tonga, we’re sort of ready for you, and please without drama.

~A Family Afloat

 

Next up: 6 weeks in Tonga: part 1

If you could freeze time…

Another guest post on Coach Daddy ‘s blog is up.  As always these are pretty fun prompts to get you thinking and limit yourself to 6 words. Its also a great way to see other and possibly new bloggers and what they think. Click the link to see our response and a few others.

https://coachdaddyblog.wordpress.com/2019/08/06/6-words-%F0%9F%A5%B6-if-you-could-freeze-time-for-5-minutes-but-still-move-what-would-you-do/

 

I would love to hear what your response would be to

in “6 words: 🥶 If you could freeze time for 5 minutes but still move, what would you do?”

Please write it in the comments section!

Also, I’m working on our next post for Tonga… I promise… I will post this month.

Thanks for being a faithful and patient follower.

Floating on,

A Family Afloat

 

 

How we make it work… as a long term sailing family.

I know its been a while since we’ve put out an actual sailing post. I think I’m almost a year behind!!!  Our last sailing post was  about Suwarrow.  Hopefully soon, a post about  sailing in Tonga (Sept-Oct, 2018) will explode from my brain and onto the blog.  It will come. For now, however, I do want to share a write up that I did for another blog/podcast.  Sometimes having someone give a prompt helps the writers block and motivation.  It is sailing related, but not limited to any particular location within our sailing journey.  Hope you enjoy.

That’s a great question, HOW DO WE WANT TO LIVE EVERY DAY?! And how do we make that possible?!

HOW DO WE STRATEGIZE? This question was brought up by a dear friend, Whitney Archibald, writer and podcast extraordinaire of  How She Moms  regarding how we strategize with parenting on the boat. (Click the link above to see our response and listen to the podcast with a few on my answers along with a few other Mum inputs). But this question wasn’t just about parenting style, when a fellow boat parent on S/V Mahi approached me with the question of how we manage to do this long term cruising thing from a financial standpoint for the Kids4sail June 2019 Newsletter, I realised that this “parenting strategizing”  extended beyond parenting on a day to day basis. The bigger picture was how do we strategize to live the life we want to offer our kids. How do we go cruising in order to raise our kids the way we would like them to be raised?  For most people, including us, the biggest challenge of cruising was figuring out how we would manage it financially.

 

When we first were thinking about sailing the world with our children, not necessarily around, we were faced with a few big questions. The biggest,  “HOW DO WE MAKE CRUISING WORK LONG TERM?” Many factors play into that, but the primary one people get caught up in when thinking about leaving their “current life” is figuring out how they can afford to do it financially.  There are some blogs that write about cruising budgets, but its hard to grasp the idea that cruising really is affordable when not many people are willing to share their financial information and the people that do might not have the same budget you would have.  Their are a few other topics are worthy of their own post, such as questions centred around education/boat-schooling, and how do you cruise and co-parent, with a blended his, hers, and ours like we have on our boat. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll leave those aspects out of this write-up and stick to finances. 

Along our journey, we have met many others who have shared their very different ways of making cruising work from a financial standpoint.  Like myself, there are a few nurses, but only a few.  There are some teachers, computer tech related fields and other various professions.  Most families out there cruising long term are still working in some way or form. Not many have been able to free themselves from the full work load completely. With an open mind to various possibilities, we, A FAMILY AFLOAT, have found ways to make it work up to this point and plan to continuing doing so.  I could not imagine our life any other way than as a cruising family.

Lets first start by defining what a “cruiser” is. Someone who has left their “home” to sail around afar (this could be in the same country or foreign) for an extended period of time. There are all sorts of different sub-species of cruisers. Those who sail seasonally, meaning they do a few months of sailing away from home, and the other months back at home. There are those who just take a year (or just a season) or two off and squeeze in what they can and then go back to “home”. Those who leave for longer periods, and those who leave with an open ended plan. We left with an open ended plan of “we’ll make it work along the way and keep going as long as it’s working”.  We left San Francisco in August, 2015 and slowly  (over 3.5 years) made our way to New Zealand so far.

When Christian and I got married in 2010, we had already agreed that we would one day go cruising with the kids. Originally we were thinking of leaving around 2019, but in 2014, when we  assessed our lives and our finances, we came to the conclusion that the opportunity to leave would open up for us for mid 2015.  I was the primary income source with my nursing career in San Francisco.  We were very fortunate to have a good steady income while Christian prepped the boat, raised the children and helped with schooling.  He is trained and skilled in carpentry (ground to finish work),  but when we blended our family and had another kid, it made the most sense for him to leave that job to take care of the “boatstead”.  I worked three 12 hour shifts a week and focused any extra money toward the cruising kitty.   We had already been living on our current boat  (S/V Shawnigan) since 2012 and paid it off by 2014, so it was just a matter of  putting enough savings into our “cruising kitty” account for at least one year’s worth of sailing.

Our costs were already relatively low, but there were a few changes we new we had to make in order to save enough in that next year. Six months prior to leaving, we pulled the kids out of private school to acclimate them to home-school life and in turn saved $$$. If you have the means to do this before you leave, we highly recommend it.  4 months prior to leaving, we moved Shawnigan out of the harbor we had been living in for the past 4.5 years and “anchored out” in the free anchorage.  This options isn’t for everybody, but worth it if you can.  Not only did we save quite a bit  of $ by being anchored out, it allowed us to get use to what life was like not being able to just step off onto the dock or dry land whenever one wanted to. It was hard work. I would wake up at 4:45 am, kayak to shore in clothes that could get wet, then ride my bike 13 miles to work to do a 12 hour shift at the hospital. I wouldn’t get home until 9:30pm at the earliest on those days.  But the hard work paid off.  Don’t forget, the extra little things add up. We ate out less and started getting rid of our extra stuff, including cars and bikes. By August, 2015 we had $20,000 in our cruising kitty and the same amount in an “emergency found”.  It allowed us to leave to go cruising with our kids and experience the world!

We kept a budget in mind while out cruising. Its easy to get into “vacation mode” and spend spend spend. Based on experience and hearing about it from others, we knew we wouldn’t be going out to dinner much and spending $ on extra sightseeing activities like some cruisers do.  A sacrifice worth making and was a challenge at time. We seemed to start out great, especially in Mexico. But as we met more people with an extended budget and as we sailed through more expensive countries it proved to be more of a challenge.  There were many times where we opted out of the group dinner out or the group sight seeing tour simply because we couldn’t afford to be spending money like that.  Trips like the Galapagos, I intentionally worked a few extra shifts on the previous travel nurse assignment in order for us to go there and enjoy a few dinners out and a tour or two their.

Assessing funds and making them along the way:  As our first year neared its marker, we knew it was time to refill the kitty.  As a nurse, I’ve always kept it a possibility to pick up travel nursing assignments throughout our sailing journey.  These are usually 13 week contracts that you agree upon with a travel nurse company. We figured hurricane season would be a good time for me to hop off the boat and work back in the U.S.. The family stayed on the boat a bit longer, but also took this time to come back to the States. As life tends to always change, just like the wind and the seas, that work stent ended up being 6 months, 4 of which we were all together in the States. Our boat was safe and secure during that time, in San Carlos, Mexico. The next year, was similar. We cruised for 9 months and then I  returned back up to the States for another Travel Nurse assignment. This one lasted 4 months, in which during that time the family stayed on the boat, explored the Sea of Cortez, and visited the States for 1 month. The next year, we made it 10 1/2 months before returning to work. The Shawnigan crew sailed from Mexico to Panama, to the Galapagos, and crossed the Pacific Ocean, explored French Polynesia, a blip in the Cook Islands, and 6 weeks in Tonga. From Tonga I flew out for my last Travel Nurse assignment… for now.

Upon arriving to Tonga, we assessed our kitty and decided that even though the plan was to work in New Zealand, I should fly back to the States for one more assignment. This was by far the hardest choice to make and to actually do. I would be away from the family to work for 13 weeks, but the payoff was great.  Sometime, mid Tonga, I had a phone interview with the hospital in Wellington. I was offered the job, given the info I needed for a work visa, and given permission to delay my start date until mid January while I waited for my work visa to go through and completed my travel assignment in the U.S.  In the meantime Christian and the kids sailed, with the help of our friend Nick, from Tonga down to New Zealand.  He then took the next few months, sailing solo with the kids,  down to Wellington, where we are all at now…on the boat, in a marina…schooling… working… refilling the kitty…. for the next leg of our sailing journey.

At this point we are uncertain how long we will stay in New Zealand… we just want to keep everyone on their toes.

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Group shot (minus Ellamae, who was already back in the US with her biological father) of the family taking me to airport in Tonga to fly out for a travel nursing assignment in California.

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Fun Facebook Video calls with the kids made it tolerable.

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And a few photos revisited from along the journey.

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May 2018 …. love the sea plastic free with @afamilyafloat!

Just a quick Iphone video made up from last May’s (2018) memories with an ocean ambassador slant to it. Just like a Tattoo… what we put on our body lasts forever… what plastic we use on this lovely planet has a lasting effect… think long and hard about what you want for Mother Earth before you put it there to last forever!

 

A few links to guide your inner Ocean Ambassador:

Toturga Bay Experience

SloActive Plastic Pollution Guide

Love the Sea Plastic Free

Ocean Ambassadors